cover image The Bubble Reputation

The Bubble Reputation

Cathie Pelletier. Crown Publishing Group (NY), $21 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-517-59311-0

Pelletier's ( Once Upon a Time on the Banks ) bittersweet but affirmative novel about a quirky, crisis-ridden family in small-town northern Maine may remind readers of Anne Tyler's work. Exploring the ways people tend to pair off and the ways they respond when these bonds are broken, she follows the course of lonely characters bereft of their mates, echoing her theme in grace-note references to bird behavior. Rosemary O'Neal, a 33-year-old teacher, falls apart when William, her live-in lover of eight years, commits suicide during a trip abroad. While Rosemary seeks solace in isolation, loved ones gradually intrude on her privacy. Among them are her sister, an oft-divorced neurotic; her uncle, an overweight and overwrought gay man; and her roommate from her college days, who is now choosing between husband and lover. Turning the phrase ``shit happens'' into a mantra as family and friends take over her house, Rosemary erects a tent in the backyard, a move that proves to be one of many stages in her grieving process. Despite the occasional patch of sentimental prose and a self-conscious zaniness, Pelletier's tale of separation and renewal is achingly poignant. (Apr.)